For the second time in a year, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago bowed to an organized protest over a provocative piece of art, closing a gallery Monday “until the school can resolve security and safety needs.”
The controversial work includes an American Flag on the floor of the gallery where creations by minority students at the school went on display last week.
Veterans’ groups charged it was a desecration of the flag. “I think that a part of the American heritage is that the flag is to be standing upright, not lying on the ground,” said Vietnam veteran Austin Staunton, 43, who joined about 200 others to protest the work Monday. On the other side of a police line a similar number of students and sympathizers carried signs reading “anti-patriotism is not a crime” and shouted, “freedom from censorship.”
Last May, school and Art Institute officials outraged many museum members and the city’s liberal community when they allowed a posse of Chicago aldermen to rip down a student painting depicting the late Mayor Harold Washington dressed only in women’s lingerie.
Scott Tyler’s “What is the Proper Way to Display the American Flag?” includes a flag draped on the floor and a ledger for comments. For all but the most agile, it is necessary to step on the flag to write in the ledger.
Next to the piece is a notice from the administration stating the exhibit is legal under Illinois law. It also states that to “walk on, trample, mutilate, deface, or defile the flag” is a felony.
The piece was exhibited last year at a private gallery without incident. Tyler said the protests show, “there is not one single way to view the flag . . . what means freedom for some means domination and oppression for others.”